Insight – A new generation steps up at Tourism Research Australia

13 January 2023

In 35 years, the team at Tourism Research Australia (TRA) has driven many data innovations. With their passion for understanding the why and how of tourism, TRA’s new generation is ready to make their own mark.

Among TRA’s new recruits are Laura Nelson, Michelle Chiang and Tim Howard.

Nelson works on the International Visitor Survey (IVS). The IVS measures how international tourism contributes to Australia’s economy. Chiang works with the National Visitor Survey (NVS), which collects data on domestic travel trends. Data analyst Howard is responsible for extracting insights from visitor survey results and interrogating international student data.

A culture of innovation

Although drawn to TRA for different reasons, all 3 have been impressed by its culture of innovation.

Nelson says they enjoy a wide variety of work outside their core areas. ‘We spend time working on an important statistical collection, as well as looking at cutting-edge data,’ she says. ‘A lot of data discovery goes on in the team – knowing what’s out there and being creative about how it can be used.’ 

Chiang agrees. ‘It’s especially impressive that long-term team members are open to continuously improve and try new things.’

‘Our managers give us a lot of flexibility to explore and redesign processes,’ adds Howard. ‘We can chat openly to leadership, and they trust your ideas and let you run with it.’

They are proud to work in a team that is widely respected in Australia and overseas.

‘For a small team, we make a big impression on tourism data,’ Howard says. ‘TRA has set up a framework for others to follow. It’s great to see how highly regarded TRA is, how trusted and widely used the data is. We’ve got to consider that legacy and build on it in our work.’

Nelson says TRA data reaches a broad audience. ‘TRA gets a range of data requests from the government, consultants and even small tourism operators. It’s reaching all levels of the visitor economy and businesses connected to the visitor economy.’

Looking to the future

As a team, they are excited about the possibilities complementary data will bring. Complementary data includes de-identified commercial and government data, such as:

  • transactional data
  • booking and ticketing data
  • telecommunications data.

‘Complementary data will help us estimate how many people are travelling at any given time,’ Nelson says. ‘It helps us understand how many travellers are visiting an area and how that changes over time. This can help councils and other bodies make planning and investment decisions.’ 

Chiang says complementary data will also provide greater detail. ‘Currently, the IVS and NVS don’t provide a level of granularity about anything beyond a general tourism region. Complementary data will provide enough detail to know exactly where people have been travelling.’ 

‘The complementary data sets are also going to give insights about the people moving around the country,’ Howard says. ‘We’ll know the sorts of travellers that go to certain areas. Over time, we will be able to refine traveller personas. We can then work with Tourism Australia and others to market to or develop products for that traveller type.’

Data in real time

On their wish list is greater automation that will allow real-time data feeds.

‘A lot of our processes are still manual,’ Chiang says. ‘It would be great if we could click a button and have all that done.’

‘It would be great to have more automation. We’d get to go down rabbit holes exploring data,’ Howard says.

‘It would be great to have a real-time data feed from all our ports of entry,’ Nelson agrees. ‘So we could see in real time, information about all the people coming in and out of the country.’

She would also like to expand on the interaction between tourism and sustainability. ‘The THRIVE 2030 strategy has recommendations to push tourism in a more sustainable direction,’ she says.

‘At the moment, we’re working on measuring the carbon footprint of tourism. It’s still very early days, but it will be a big innovation if we’re able to get it right.’

Looking back on 35 years of TRA

‘The anniversary is a great opportunity to reflect on how far the team has come,’ Nelson says.

‘It’s impressive that a small team has kept its identity in Austrade and the public service, and is so trusted and respected,’ Howard says.

‘It’s a great time to look forward and think of where data is going next,’ Nelson adds. It’s so digital and fast-paced now, the innovations happen so rapidly. In 5 years’ time, the work will look very different, although it’s hard to predict exactly how.’

Learn more

Visit the TRA website and subscribe to its email newsletter to stay up-to-date with the latest tourism data and insights.  

Learn more about THRIVE 2030, Australia’s national strategy for the long-term sustainable growth of the visitor economy.